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Harrison Consoles Mixbus
4.5 (4 Reviews) The result was pretty surprising. On the PT session, I was using my plethora of plug ins.. Waves, iZotope Ozone, SSL etc., so to be honest, I thought that comparing the Mixbus mix to the PT mix with all the plugins might be a bit unfair. Boy was I wrong.
A year or so ago, I was approached by a friend, Nathan Adam, who was really excited about a new product from a local company, Harrison Consoles. Nathan and I have been doing Pro Tools tutorials together for the last 5 years or so. We saw an opportunity to do the same for this fledgling product.
Nathan told me about Mixbus and shortly after, we started digging into this version 1 workstation and putting it through the paces. It started out kind of rough, but since then Mixbus has matured nicely. We’ve made a couple of videos; you can purchase the latest one, “Pop Country Mixing”, at the Harrison store. I also have some free videos at my site MixCoach
For the last 8 years or so, I have been a pretty "Avid" (no pun intended) Pro Tools user… One might say a Power user… but the more I use it, the more I can see how Mixbus has nailed a few items that make mixes easier to “gel”.
Just the other day, I took a song that I was working on in Pro Tools and imported the raw files directly into Mixbus… you know, just to see how it would measure up.
The result was pretty surprising. On the PT session, I was using my plethora of plug ins.. Waves, iZotope Ozone, SSL etc., so to be honest, I thought that comparing the Mixbus mix to the PT mix with all the plugins might be a bit unfair. Boy was I wrong.
It took less time to mix in Mixbus because all of the plugins are already in place and ready to go. A world class EQ, Three types of Compressors, busses with tape emulation, EQ, Compression… all ready to tweak.
I think the only plugin I used was a reverb… (which I understand, Harrison is working on that too)
• What I noticed was the Mixbus mix was more open. I don't know if it's because of the cleaner signal path, the EQ or the way the output buss is structured with a -1db output to allow for less expensive consumer convertors
• It was warmer .. this was probably because of running every track through the 8 mix busses that Harrison provided.
• It happened faster. I think that having everything in place puts me back in the mindset of being a performer. I made decisions more quickly and I think it served the mix well.
If you get a chance, go and check out the free trial at Harrison Mixbus. I don't think you will be disappointed.
The text is below for those who don't want to click through.
If I was a rich man...
I recently bought a copy of Harrison's Mixbus DAW, via a sale they are having at DontCrack. Though I already use Reaper as my primary DAW, I was attracted by the potential for Mixbus to put an analog console feel to my mixes, as well as the price point. Some folks have said it's a no-brainer buy, while others touted their own favorite console emulation plugins as better sounding. Seeing as mixing is not my day job and $40 puts Mixbus at one of the cheapest prices for a console emulator plugin (though it is invariably more than that), I decided to dive in and give it a try.
Harrison has been around since the 70s, making high end boards for film and audio. Since the digital revolution in recorded audio, they've been transitioning into the digital domain, making their boards with digital controls whilst keeping a good sounding analog frontend. Mixbus is their first step into the DAW world, and while I must say there are some things lacking, they have made the core of their product in line with the sound they've created through their analog consoles.
[image here] Mixbus's mixer view - looks like a sound board!
A board approach
Mixbus's approach is directly derived from what they've been making for years and years: consoles. The mixer view is designed to look just like a recording console. The idea is to have one knob control a single function, and to have everything you need to make a mix on one screen. Needless to say, a nice wide screen helps if you have a lot of channels!
Just like a sound board, there is an EQ and compressor per channel, but there is also room for your favorite plugins to be put in as inserts. Channels can be routed to up to 8 busses, which ultimately combines into the master fader. On each of the busses, as well as the master buss, is tape saturation. Embedded into each of the mixer's features is Harrison's DSP, derived from their own consoles. That means that the EQ, compressor, and tape saturation all have Harrison's trademark sound on them.
Harrison's experience in the analog console world has informed them of the optimal settings and configurations of each effect in order to give the maximum benefit with just a few knobs' worth of turning. The EQ is designed to give a broad Q when cutting or boosting very lightly, but once you turn the gain towards an extreme, the results is a thin but deep cut or boost. The compressor has 3 flavors: Leveler, Compressor, or Limiter. Leveler mode is designed for evening out the volume of a channel, for example, normalizing between soft and loud parts of a vocal. The Compressor is your standard compression, and can give a nice strong tone to the channel. Limiter mode is of course a hard compression that tames anything above its threshold coming its way.
My plan in buying Mixbus was mostly to use it as a final touch for my mixes. The two reasons for this are because 1) I'm already used to mixing in Reaper, and 2) Mixbus is still short of some features that I would want in a full-time DAW (I'll explain more below). I imagined either routing the outputs of my busses from Reaper into Mixbus, or exporting stems from my mix into Mixbus for the tone it gives. I haven't gotten to try out routing straight from Reaper into Mixbus yet (also explained below), but I have had the chance to put an almost-finished mix's stems into Mixbus and compare the tonal differences.
Remember Heather from last post? I've got a few songs of hers just short of mastering-ready. Here's a clip from my Reaper mix:
Since there are only 3 instruments in this song, I threw them all into individual tracks on Mixbus. With no EQ nor compression, I evened out the tape saturation knobs to around 0, and then printed the mix. Here's what it sounds like:
[audio samples here]
I'll leave it to you to be the final judge, but I hear two big things. One is that there is a nicer bottom end, which comes out in the guitar's lower notes as well as thickening up Heather's lower notes. Secondly and my favorite so far is that the high end is tamed much better than I could do with EQ; parts where Heather strains a bit while she goes high, no longer sound piercing, but rather has a smoothness to it.
While I could only hear the difference subtly on my monitors and headphones, the real kicker is when I played it in my car; yep, I gave it the old car stereo test. My car speakers are like NS-10s in that whatever tiny bit of a mix sounds bad, the speakers make it sound worse. So any screechiness that I didn't catch at home, is now someone yelling ear-piercingly into my ear when I'm in the car. Mixbus did me the favor of taking all (well, most) of that away, as well as not making my mix sound too boomy (which tends to happen in the car). Those two features alone made it worth the buy, and I'm barely at 24 hours of owning it!
A few caveats
But nothing's perfect in the world...which is why mixing, even though it's a fun passion of mine, is sometimes still a lot of work. There are a few things that I wish Mixbus had that Harrison has not yet developed into their software. The biggest is that I can't wire my Reaper stems into Mixbus for direct playback (using something called MIDI Machine Code or MIDI Time Code). The feature unfortunately is not yet available in Windows, though if you run OSX or Linux, you can do this. On the Mixbus website they claim that it is a feature coming soon, so I will hold my hopes high; in the meantime, it looks like I'll be exporting finished stems into Mixbus to give it that final sheen.
Another annoying thing is that if I were to move to Mixbus for all of my mixing, I would have to learn a new DAW, with all its new keyboard shortcuts and different button places. It is an annoying thing, but if Mixbus puts the time into coding their stuff right, it just may be possible that I'll be learning it completely. I will tell you that I spent an hour on a brand new mix (albeit 4 instruments), and I was able to get something very decent out of it at the end of the hour. Here, I'll show you:
[audio sample here]
Lastly, you'll read as well that not every VST plugin works on Mixbus, nor does every AU work for Mixbus on Mac. There is quite a bit of programming work to be done, but now that Mixbus is getting more attention, my hope is that they will roll out updates with fixes sooner than later.
So I gotta say I love Mixbus so far, and for the price it is right now, it's a great addition any budget-conscious mixer's bag of gadgets. It gives me that analog sheen without much effort, and it makes me excited for the step up in sound I'm not able to produce.
Through June 12th  you can get it for only $39: Harrison Mixbus
What is it? Harrison Mixbus is a software mixing desk incorporating the Ardour DAW. Harrison Audio Consoles, based in Nashville, have manufactured highly-regarded film, broadcast and audio hardware since 1972. ABBA used Harrison; AC/DC, Zappa, Queen - Thriller was recorded on Harrison as was Sade's Smooth Operator. Although Harrison now manufacture a range of affordable small-format mixers they have also released the Mixbus software which has the 'Harrison sound' and many of the features and workflow of the 32 & MR-series hardware consoles.
In use: On opening Mixbus the first screen is the Ardour DAW which has been tweaked for Harrison. It follows the familiar DAW format with tracks displayed and the usual features expected: transport controls, file menus, mouse-clickable editing...and a lot more!
The mixer screen has it's own window and the system works well on my 2 screen set-up. The mixer has the usual features one needs: faders, EQ, dynamics - all ready-to-use...no need for extra plug-ins. The architecture is based around individual channels which can either be routed to the master bus or to any of 8 busses each of which has a tape saturation built in (as does the master bus).
My main DAW is Propellerhead Reason which I love using but I find the summing to be a bit harsh and clinical; I was interested to sum using Mixbus so currently I'm importing files as stems from Reason: there is a direct route using Jack software but, for now, I'm importing stems. Lot's of users are requesting Rewire. Once the stems are imported to Mixbus each is assigned a channel and then it's straightforward to route to a bus or master bus.
The mixer is easy to use with great sonic results: each channel has a 3-band EQ with a frequency and +/-gain dial. Small cuts or boosts create a wide bandwidth Q which becomes narrower as more cut/boost is applied. It sounds very musical and is quite intuitive after a couple of sessions.
Compression is applied by adjusting a slider alongside the main fader: two dials situated above control 'compressor speed' and make-up gain, and a button selects ratio as leveller/compressor/limiter. Once familiarised, this is a great workflow which allowed me to focus on the sound.
The busses also have EQ/compression in addition to a one dial tape saturator; the master bus has specialised 3-band EQ (smaller dB increments), dynamics and master limiter and final tape saturator. Metering is via digital bar graphs, tape saturation meters (analogue-style) and a useful K-meter on the master bus.
I tried two Harrison plug-in's with Mixbus: a reverb (as good as Softube TSAR if not better) and a great delay.
Issues: Two issues prevent me from using Mixbus as my main DAW: no current support for VST instruments & no Rewire. I understand that Harrison are committed to the ongoing development of the software so hopefully I will be able to undertake all my ITB projects in Mixbus in the future. For now it's no hassle to import stems into Mixbus...in fact this helps delineate the tracking/mix process.
Pros: Excellent mix workflow and quality of sound. Like many I'm not entirely happy with DAW summing, can't afford a hardware/converter solution and Slate/UA is out as I'm a Reason user: so Mixbus is a convenient and affordable solution with outstanding sonic results.
Demo: Here are 2 short audio samples from a track I'm currently working on - one processed through Mixbus, the other through Reason:
Conclusion: I'm currently evaluating Harrison Mixbus for another project but I'm sufficiently impressed that I will purchase it - I like the sound, I like the workflow, I like the results, it's a great audio tool: I really like the way Mixbus smooths harsh transients and places instruments in the stereo soundstage...the low-end is killer. VST instrument & Rewire capability would earn it higher points for ease-of-use and features.
Mixbus is a Digital Audio Workstation developed by Harrison, a famous high-end American large format console company. It’s an analog style mixing environments with great-sounding smooth EQs, filters, compression (leveler, compressor, limiter), analog tape saturation (super impressive), dynamics, bus summing, and a knob dedicated to each function. The GUI is clean, and the transports are familiar and comfortable to anyone who has worked in a “real” pro studio. The workflow is simple and powerful with a choice of importing audio from another source/DAW or recording. The design and layout is intuitive, straightforward, simple, and powerful. You won’t have to labor through endless windows, popups, and menus to track, mix, and master. Yet, the most impressive thing about Mixbus, IMO, is the sound. Whatever audio I run through it simply sounds better. I don’t know if it’s because of feel of classic, vintage tweaking or if there is an invisible little wizard inside helping me. To quote another reviewer, “Mixbus improves in areas where others fall short and offers something no other DAW can boast: a million-dollar mixer.” I have found this to be very true.
MY FAVORITE FEATURES
• Classic console interface/GUI (based on the famous 32 and MR-series)
• Two window approach (editor and mixer)
• Small learning curve, especially for those who grew up pre-digital
• Unlimited tracks
• Unlimited plugins
• Plays nice with other DAWs via Jack
• Low latency
• Amazing algorithms
• Flexible looping and auto-punch
• Versatile audio routing
• Levels can be dragged up and down by swiping across the waveform
• Phase, trim, filters, compression, mix bus sends on every track
• Impressive shuttle wheel speeding, slowing, and scrubbing audio with or without pitch-changing
• Excellent metering (channel meter, compressor gain reduction meter, tape saturation meters, peak limiting meter, K-14 average level meter, and a final peak limiting meter)
• Amazing $ value
• Responsive, innovative developers (frequent updates + great communication)
• I have heard that Mixbus will soon release a version with advanced MIDI capabilities. Wow!! At that point, “Fully Featured” will have a new meaning.
• Snapshot saving is something I have never encountered before.
• Sync via Jack can be buggy at times
• Hey, give us that highly acclaimed G-verb. I’m greedy.
Harrison Mixbus delivers the very best of analog-style mixing to eMusicians, producers, film/game scorers, DJs, sound designers, etc. It helps to create great tracks; it does not get in the way and suck the creative juices out of your muse! The workflow is fast and fun. Tracking with Mixbus is a breeze and the virtual real console mixing is a dream. There is something unmistakably special about this software that helps bring recordings to life — nice bottom end, punchy mids, and crisp, clean (not shrill) top end. Mixbus is linear and will probably not be the primary DAW for those who use a Launchpad and link clips a la Live or Bitwig; however, even in such a case, Mixbus provides an excellent secondary DAW for mix-downs and mastering. Even with its limitations, i.e., lack of MIDI, this is a must buy — the mixer section is do die for! Once I used it, I couldn’t imagine not using it. It provides lots of analog without much effort. Don’t let the price tag fool you — this is pro stuff. Tommy Zai gives Mixbus two tracks up. Thank you, Harrison, for developing such an amazing workstation. Fantastic!